As Taught By Frances Turretin
Extracts and Abridgements from Frances Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology

Providence and the hearts of men

It is evident from the Scriptures that free and voluntary things which are in our power and are done with purpose are governed by providence.
A just weight and balance are the LORD’S: all the weights of the bag are his work.” (Prov.16:11)
A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” (Prov. 16:9)
The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” (Prov. 21:1)
O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” (Jer. 10:23)
From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works.” (Ps. 33:14-15)
This is clearly confirmed by the examples of Laban (Gen. 31:29), Esau (Gen. 33:4), the Egyptians (Ex. 12:36), Balaam (Num. 22, 23), Saul (1 Sam 24:15, 18; 26:17) and others. Manifold reasons also convinces us of it. As man depends upon God as to essence and life, so he must depend upon Him as to the actions and movements of his soul. For to pretend that man is independent in will and action is to make him independent in being because whatever he is in acting is him in being. Finally, free actions do not depend upon God, and are not governed by him, they would be performed, God being either ignorant and unconscious or neglecting or unwilling (which cannot be said and thought without impiety).

Hardening and Blinding Ascribed to God

God is said to blind and to harden men not only negatively (by not enlightening and softening) and privately (by withdrawing his grace whatever it may have been after men have abused it) and permissively (by not hindering), but also positively. Not by bringing in blindness or hardness (which is natural to man), but both objectively by presenting external objects to them which although ordained to another direction by their own nature, yet he knows will be drawn in a different way by their vice; and judicially by smiting them internally with blindness (the light which they abused being taken away or extinguished); and by loosening the reins to their lusts and delivering them up and enslaving them to Satan; and acting in many other inexplicable ways by which he exercises the judgement of just blinding and hardening upon the contumacious (i.e. the stubbornly disobedient).

Nevertheless, this does not hinder the wicked also from blinding and hardening themselves by the
abuse of those things by which especially they ought to be softened (such is the longsuffering and
kindness of God, Rom. 2:4). The light of the word and the sweetness of the gospel becomes “the
savour of death unto death” (2 Cor. 2:16), and the very castigations of God by which they ought to
be corrected make them more obstinate. “O LORD, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast
stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to
receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to
return.” (Jer. 5:3) So one’s hardening is culpable on the part of men who harden themselves, just
and penal on the part of God who hardens them by his righteous judgment for the punishment of
previous sins.

Editor’s comment: The genuine reception of God’s Word is also by the providence of God.

The use and abuse of the doctrine of providence

As they err in many ways theoretically about providence who either entirely deny it or are
ignorant of it or corrupt its true nature and mode of operation, no less dangerously do they sin
against it practically who are ignorant or neglect the right and lawful use of the doctrine.

A manifold sin can be committed against the doctrine of providence whether it is concerned with
the past or the future. For as to the past, it is sinned against in the following ways:

(1) By murmuring, when sinners rave against the providence and charge it with injustice.
This is attributed to the wicked (Ezek. 18:29), as if they were visited undeservedly on the
account of others’ sins, while yet they might find in themselves the most just causes of
punishment (Ezek. 33:20). This sometimes happens to the pious also through the
impatience of the flesh when they see the prosperity of the wicked and the adversity of
the pious (Job 21:7-8; Ps. 73:2; Jer. 12:1).

(2) By desperation, when they sink into despair in evils as if it was all over with them and no
hope of restoration remained: examples of which are found in Cain, Saul, Judas and

(3) By the excusing of crimes, when sinners set the providence of God over against their
wickedness; for nothing is done except as God wills and permits (and nothing is more
wicked than this thought). For although sins are not committed without the providence of
God, yet neither does God come into alliance with the sin, nor are the wicked on that
account freed from blame because they obey not the will of God, but their own lust.

(Editor’s note: God is not the author of sin. The chargeable cause of the loss of the lost
is in the lost himself)

As to the future, providence is sinned against in the following ways:

(1) By security and sloth by those who, wantonly despising the means most wisely instituted
by divine providence, seek hiding place for the idleness and torpor in this most holy

(2) By anxiety and distrust, when we are concerned unduly about the morrow’s food and
clothing and the necessities of life, as if God was not a provident Father making
abundant provision for all. The words of Christ are very pertinent here, “Therefore I say
unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet
for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than
raiment?” (Matt. 6:25)

(3) By too great reliance upon second causes; for as they who entirely neglect them tempt
God, seeking whether He will even without means conserve them, no less do they also
sin against Him who ascribe too much to them, placing their confidence in them and
cling to these certain means as it were to a spike, leave no room for divine providence on
account of their distrust. For example, there is Asa, “who in his disease sought not to the
Lord, but to the physicians,” (2 Chron. 16:12).

However, the use of this doctrine is far more fruitful and excellent, both in asserting the glory of
God (to whom is here ascribed the praise of the highest wisdom, power and goodness), and in
cherishing our faith and increasing our confidence which, when involved in the storms of trial, the
persuasion of providence strengthens, like a most sure anchor in the sea of this wicked world.


From this contemplation of God’s providence, there ought to arise in the hearts of believers an
earnest desire:

(a) of holiness, that we may be more cautious in our daily life, because we are
everywhere acting under the eye of God who sees and hears all things.

(b) of gratitude, that we may in prosperity and favourable circumstances not sacrifice
to our net, but tenderly kiss and reverence with a grateful mind the benevolent
providence of God (Ps. 115:1), ascribing the glory not to ourselves but to His

(c) of patience and humility, in adversity by the example of Christ (Lk. 22:42), of
Joseph (Gen 45:8; 50:20), of Job (1:21), of David (2 Sam. 16:10; Ps. 39:9), that in
all things which happen somewhat harshly to us, we may acquiesce without a
murmur in the will and providence of God. “And we know that all things work
together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to
his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)

(d) of repentance, for as the blessings of God invite us to gratitude, so adversities are
His scourges which calls us to repentance (Lam. 3:39; Isa. 45:7, Am. 3:6; Heb.

Finally, from the belief in providence arises the greatest consolation and incredible tranquillity
of mind for the pious. It causes them, resting peacefully in the bosom of God and commending
themselves entirely to His paternal care, always to hope well from Him in the future, not
doubting that He will ever perform the office of a Father towards them in conferring good and
turning away evil (1 Sam. 17:37; Ps. 23; 2 Tim. 4:17-18). They feel that under His protection
(who has all creatures in His power), nothing is to be feared by them while walking in their
proper calling. Hence, neither supinely neglecting means, nor carefully trusting to them, but
prudently using them according to His command, they cast all their care upon the Lord (1 Pet.
5:7), and in all their perplexities always exclaim with the father of the faithful, “The Lord will
provide” (Jehovah-Jireh; (יְ הוָה יִ ראֶ ה)